Next generation of RCM: A more rigorous tool

Reliability centered maintenance (RCM) must be seen as a strategy, not a software solution.


Reliability centered maintenance (RCM) is today a rigorous and documented optimization process for asset-intensive organizations. But it really started as more of a philosophy—a philosophy in which each system in a plant, aircraft, ship, or other large asset had an optimal maintenance approach.Image courtesy: Bob Vavra, CFE Media

In 1978, senior executives and engineers from United Airlines sought out an approach to improve maintenance efficiency and operations. Their creation was the first documented case of reliability centered maintenance and was widely adopted by asset-intensive organizations across multiple industries. 

In 2005, consulting group Aladon, LLC, launched the next generation of reliability centered maintenance with the release of RCM2. The improved approach included new methods for condition monitoring, the analysis of functions and failures, human error, risk management, fault finding, and the measurement of maintenance performance.

The advances in technology over the last decade have had a major impact on asset management. With industry standards continually changing and equipment continually getting smarter, RCM and enterprise software has needed to evolve to keep in line with the transformation. In 2015, Aladon sought to make reliability centered maintenance a more rigorous, strategic business tool and released RCM3, the fourth generation of reliability centered maintenance. 

Carlo Odoardi, an Aladon Network member and certified RCM3 practitioner, views the latest approach as a key to unlocking efficiency and reducing risk as digital transformation takes hold in the enterprise. The advances in technology have pushed the need for asset risk management higher up the organizational structure.  

“RCM3 is no longer just another initiative, but a mainstream business risk management process,” Odoardi said. “It has the ‘teeth’ to become the most important management system for improving process safety and asset integrity. Our new risk-based methodology is the only process companies need to maintain and optimize all their physical assets including critical and non-critical, rotating and static.”

Unlocking the value of smarter operations

Advances in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) have driven smarter assets and smarter operations. Developments within the industry mean plant managers, CFOs, and others have access to more asset data than ever before as sensors automatically collect event and condition data in real-time.

When this data is coupled with the support of enterprise software, it gives asset-intensive organizations the opportunity to reach the next level of RCM. The software helps aggregate, store, and analyze the data coming from smarter equipment, which unlocks bottom line benefits due to the increased efficiency and decreased risk.

RCM3 is designed to turn risk into a profit-making advantage. In order to deliver a 360-deg enterprise-wide risk understanding, RCM3 takes numerous emerging technology and business process-related developments into account. 

International standards pushing risk center stage

Asset-heavy organizations are being pushed toward increased enterprise visibility in order to comply with international guidelines such as ISO 55000 asset management standard and ISO 31000 risk management standard.

According to Odoardi, the ultimate goal of RCM3 is to offer a comprehensive approach to—and visibility of—asset condition and related risk. 

Risk mitigation is a primary area addressed in RCM3. It must encompass business management systems such as reliability centered design (RCD), root cause of failure analysis (RCFA), risk-based inspection (RBI), and hazard and operability studies (HAZOP). 

Proactive planning to maximize efficiency

RCM3 coupled enterprise-wide software support allows organizations to process real-time data and respond quickly to equipment concerns. Without this methodology, businesses miss out on the opportunities created by IIoT enabled assets—visibility and agility.

Good visibility allows an organization to proactively plan to realize the full potential of existing equipment, extend the lifecycle of assets, and/or project how asset portfolios may need to change to meet evolving business needs. Many organizations lack agility because they do not give people authority to make decisions, and suffer from unconnected and siloed data. Without an organizational discipline like RCM3, executives may not pay attention to maintenance until they experience a failure—at which point it is already too late.

C-level visibility key of the floor

Organizations may be unaware of the true productive potential of processes due to a lack of C-level visibility. Companies wanting to add product lines or scale up production may be prevented from doing so because they lack insight into the cost of additional assets or the full capacity of assets currently in use.

Businesses cannot afford to mishandle a large order because they do not have full visibility into asset readiness. A top-down view of asset readiness is vital for senior managers as production, orders, and quality control are all dependent on the people and machinery on the factory floor.

RCM3 is a discipline 

Whether making a business case for new machinery, an additional maintenance shift, or a refit contract for a major piece of equipment or asset, organizations need the hard data in hand on which to base those decisions and a way to present that data for higher level decision makers. An RCM3 approach combined with 360-degree enterprise asset management provides this visibility. Even organizations working on calendar-driven maintenance programs can realize an upside in terms of business agility, capacity assurance, and more informed decision making by analyzing equipment history data. 

EAM software must address not only the maintenance function, but also supply chain management, human resources, quality management, and include embedded tools like supplier scorecards, training documentation, and quality management. EAM is an integral part in capturing business information from the enterprise and putting it into the hands of the people who need it.

To run a full-scale RCM3 program, organizations need to take measurements, track equipment history and record failure types, then carry out predictive analysis on the data. EAM is crucial for capturing, interpreting, and applying this data and, therefore, is a key aspect of RCM. However, it is important to remember that you cannot buy EAM software that magically contains RCM because RCM is a discipline rather than a technology.

RCM3 adoption is only going to grow as assets increase in complexity and capability as smarter devices continue to enter the enterprise. Together, with the right asset management software, this maintenance approach will become a strategic discipline that reduces cost and risk while preparing organizations for disruptive change.

Jerry Browning is a senior advisor for IFS North America.


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